If you’re taking a long-haul flight to Taipei, it seems like a missed opportunity not to take side trip. You can poke around and see what’s going on just a few hours away in Japan or South East Asia.
That’s why one of my favorite things about life in Taipei is the fact that it’s so easy to get the hell out of here. And what’s the key to getting the hell out of here affordably? Budget airlines.
Thanks to budget airlines, I can go to a bunch of places within a four-hour flight radius and explore for just a couple of days. All I need is my trusty airplane pillow and every single electronic device I own.
Here, I’ll be sharing a few harmless stories about the budget airlines that have shuttled my cheap butt around Asia. And maybe one day, yours.
The first budget experience: Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia
I planned my first visit to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, to meet up with some friends from Sydney. The problem was it wasn’t that long after the whole Malaysian Airlines “thing”. Then AirAsia had their own “thing” shortly after.
But I have a habit of supporting the underdog, so I went with AirAsia anyway. And see? Everything’s been completely fine since!
What I learned from my first budget airline flight is this: the flight attendants never shut up. If they’re not making safety announcements in four dialects, they’re trying to sell you food and drinks. And if everyone is trying to sleep, they presume that’s the best time to share information about an irrelevant special offer.
AirAsia is based in Kuala Lumpur, so you can reach endless other places if you make a stopover. Their sale prices are crazy low. I know that because they send emails constantly.
The late-night delay: Singapore on Jetstar
Jetstar Asia took me to Singapore earlier this year. It was an after-dinner flight, so I didn’t order a meal. But then the flight was extremely delayed on the runway and the young couple sitting in our row started to argue, creating tension in the air that I wanted to cut through with some chocolate.
So I got up to get chocolate from my carry-on bag…only to face a flight attendant’s wagging finger gesturing that no outside food was allowed. What I did next was insane: I put the chocolate back, zipped up my carry-on and went back to my seat, where my boyfriend was laughing.
This level of outside-food vigilance was surprising considering what happened during check-in: Turns out I had misspelled my boyfriend’s last name in the reservation. When presented with this potential security issue, the manager at the check-in counter barked, “just change it!” Granted, the return ticket had the correct name (I’m not completely stupid), so they simply made that extra “g” disappear.
The early-morning coma: Chiang Mai on Tiger Air
Most recently, I flew Tiger to Chiang Mai for a girls’ trip. I was the only one flying from Taipei. As you’ll notice with a lot of budget airlines, many flights are scheduled really early in the day. So my flight out of Taoyuan was at 4:45am. It was hands-down the most torturous flight ever.
While hundreds of strangers were drunk on their pre-holiday highs, I was like a sleep-deprived new parent, desperately trying to snooze in the taxi, at the gate and through the incessant in-flight announcements. Before boarding, I was surrounded by groups of college students brainstorming vacation activities and laughing. I was in agony. What the hell could be so funny at 4am while sober, I will never know.
As soon as my seatbelt was securely fastened, I shut down. Thank god for my airplane pillow. I woke up a few hours later in Chiang Mai and had to rush to my 9am Thai cooking class (agony, act two). For what it’s worth, night owls like me have no business flying that early in the morning.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s not about the journey when you fly budget. Like, at all. It’s about the destination. And that’s perfectly okay because budget airlines deliver you to new places at great prices.
If they do their job right, the flights are totally forgettable. Does it really matter if you can’t eat your own chocolate, you get verbally tortured and you have to sleepwalk onto the plane at 5am? No, because of the savings.
If you’re in the mood to get the hell out of Taipei, here are some more budget airlines to plan your next side trip:
Go to Shanghai on Spring Airlines
Surprisingly, Spring is China’s only budget airline. From Taipei, you can fly Spring to Shanghai and also Shijiazhuang in Hebei. But I wouldn’t recommend going there because Wikipedia says the air pollution in Shijiazhuang is one of China’s worst.
Go to Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka and Singapore on Scoot
Scoot flies from Taipei to Seoul, Tokyo and Singapore. From Kaohsiung, they fly to Osaka and Singapore. I should mention that Scoot is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. This seems to comfort people.
Go to Okinawa, Osaka and Tokyo on Peach
Soon I’ll be flying Peach twice: to Osaka, and back from Tokyo. I don’t want to jinx myself, so I’ll just mention that I like all the exclamation points on their website.
Go to Tokyo on Vanilla Air
Continuing the food theme, Vanilla Air also flies from Taipei and Kaohsiung to Tokyo. Since the objective of flying budget is to save money, compare prices between Peace and Vanilla if you’re planning a side trip there.
Go to Hong Kong on Dragonair
Dragonair is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, so they’re essentially the same thing. I’m taking Dragonair to Beijing via Hong Kong in a couple of weeks. They fly between Hong Kong and Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung a bunch of times a day.
So where will you be going?